If you need to create a life story book for your adopted child, it can be hard to know where to start. You need something that’s flexible and that you can easily update as the child grows up, without having to start from scratch every time. Making life story books with Project Life simplifies the whole business and makes it really easy to change things around as they get older.
I used Project Life albums to create Joanna and Charlotte’s life story books. (I’m not on commission! I just really recommend them because they’re easy.) We’ve had so many positive comments from social workers and therapists about these books, and – more importantly – the girls love them. I’m currently updating Joanna’s and changing the type of album from a stitched binding to a ring-binder type which is even more flexible.
So. What is Project Life?
Project Life was invented by American scrapbooking legend Becky Higgins. It’s about simplifying scrapbooking into just an album, photos, ‘pocket pages’ (more on those in a moment) and journalling cards, which can either be written on or decorative.
The idea is that the pocket pages are divided into 6×4 inch and 3×4 inch pockets into which your photos and the cards all slide happily. This makes it a lot easier to move things about, re-write things, and add things. That’s essentially all there is to it, although if you want to add more decorative stuff, then there is a whole world of products you can investigate. All those extras are decidedly optional, though.
Where I started
I started with the mangled clipart fest that I was given by social services, a copy of Joy Rees’s book, about four photos from the girls’ birth family, and some more from their foster carers.
I bought a Project Life mini album (which has the pocket pages sewn in) and a couple of sets of cards (details below).
Using the Joy Rees model, I divided up the 40-page album like this:
1: Cover page (name and photo)
2-3: This is Joanna. (Description and happy photos of her now.)
4-5: Joanna’s talents. (Photos of activities she enjoys.)
6-7: Our family. (Photos of her with each of us and all of us together.)
8-9: Our house. (Photos of the outside, the girls playing in the garden, and her room.)
10-11: School. (Her with her teacher, her with her best friend, and holding various drawings, certificates and pieces of work. More writing about the things she’s good at.)
12-13: When Joanna was born. (Photo of birth certificate – the adoption one -and a card saying when and where she was born, how much she weighed, and what the weather was like that day.
14-15: Birth family photos and a brief child-friendly outline of why they were taken into care. (More on this below.)
16-17: Birth sibling. (Photos from direct contact.)
18-19: Foster carers. (Photos and the dates they were with them.)
20-21: How we became a family. (Photo of their social worker, who they loved, the photo from their profile, and the first photo of all of us together. A child-friendly explanation of the adoption process, with dates.)
22-23: Introductions. (Photos and stories from introductions.)
24-25: Extended family. (Grandparents and cousins.)
26-27: Staying safe. (Photos and descriptions of things we do to keep them safe – car seats, fireguards, holding hands, etc.)
28-29: Adoption day. (Photos with the judge and celebrations afterwards.)
30-31: Birthdays. (Photos of her looking excited with cakes in front of her, and stories of the ways we’ve celebrated together.)
32-33: Holidays. (Photos and stories from the holidays we’ve been on together.)
34-37: Favourite memories. (Photos of the things she’s enjoyed with us – a trip to London, eating an enormous pizza, flying a kite…)
38-39: The future. (What might happen next? What job might she do when she’s older? Photos of her in job-related costumes.)
40: This book was made for you by… (Photo of us together.)
Here’s an idea of what the books look like inside:
I used the ‘Sunflower’ album (yellow) with ‘midnight edition’ cards (yellow, black and white). I’ve also mixed in some ‘baby edition’ cards that look like this:
The baby edition includes cards which are specifically about where and when the child was born, their birth weight, etc. There are also some pregnancy-related ones in the set, but there’s enough adoption-relevant stuff in the baby edition to still make it worthwhile for me. Note that spellings are American, but there is a digital version with UK spellings available to print.
Updating the life story book
However, great though these have been for the last few years, and are a great size for young children to handle, they only have 40 pages. Now that Joanna is 8, I now need to add in more information about her early trauma, in keeping with Helen Oakwater’s maxim of telling one hundred per cent truth in an age-appropriate way (more on that here). In Joanna’s therapy we are discussing details of the neglect and violence, so it needs to be in her life story book. So I’m now switching over to a ring-bound album like this:
I love it.
I might get her more involved in the process by asking her to fill in some of the stuff about what her interests are now and picking which cards to use for different bits of the story. I’ll probably get some of these cards, which are designed to go with the ‘All about me’ album.
Where to buy Project Life kit
I tend to buy mine online. Here are a few of the shops I frequent:
Hey Little Magpie (sells part-sets of Project Life cards – handy for small albums)
Papermaze (lots of stock, including the sunflower mini album)
Samuel Taylor’s (has the ‘All about me’ album. They also have shops in Leeds, Huddersfield and Brighouse.) Update February 2019: No longer available from Samuel Taylor’s.
You can also use Project Life digitally, or as an app (for both iPhone and Android). I’ve dabbled in both of those, but always come back to the physical version. If you want to find out more, you can watch the videos below, see the full (headspin-inducing) range of products on Becky Higgins’ website, or just leave me a comment and I’ll answer ASAP.